Thursday, January 16, 2020

5th Circuit really means it: this sentence is substantively unreasonable

In United States v. Mathes, the Fifth Circuit held that the defendant's sentence is substantively unreasonable, for the second time. The defendant pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution. The government dismissed a felon-in-possession charge that would have carried a 15-year mandatory minimum. The government also filed a motion requesting a sentence reduction for the defendant's substantial assistance, which it called "extraordinary" and "at the risk of his life." At the first sentencing, the district court granted the substantial-assistance motion but then varied upward from the 70-to-87-month range to impose 210 months' imprisonment. The district court explained that the defendant got a disproportionate benefit from the dismissal of the firearms charge (even though the government said it dismissed the charge because it found evidence the defendant had not possessed a firearm, and said it would have moved for relief from the mandatory minimum under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) anyway). The Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence as substantively unreasonable, holding that since the dismissal didn't actually change the defendant's sentencing exposure, that fact did not support such a large upward variance.

At the resentencing, the district court imposed 160 months' imprisonment, less than the first sentence but still an upward variance. The district court stated that the variance was necessary to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities, because the defendant's brother had been sentenced to 324 months for the same conduct. The Fifth Circuit held this sentence substantively unreasonable as well, because only unwarranted disparities need to be avoided. This defendant pleaded guilty and cooperated extensively with the government, and his brother did not. The disparity would have been warranted and is an improper basis for an upward variance.

So this defendant will get a third sentencing hearing and substantive unreasonableness review lives, at least occasionally.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.